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2 ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Contextualizing the Study Establishing an Interpretive Framework THE YOUNG WOMEN in this study are entering adulthood at a time of profound social and political change. The last thirty years have seen traditional gender roles talked about, teased apart, and, to some extent, renegotiated . Whereas not so long ago, Lucy and Desi couldn’t be seen sleeping in the same bed on television, explicit sexuality now appears everywhere from music videos to toothpaste ads. Popular magazines encourage young women to accept nothing less than fascinating careers, fulfilling relationships , and wildly exciting sex lives. More and more, the public voices shock and outrage when cases of woman abuse come to light. And new laws address rape, harassment, and battering in ways these young women’s mothers may only have dreamed about. Yet despite some evidence of societal progress, in other ways little has changed. Women are still beaten, raped, and harassed at alarming rates, and they are more likely to be injured at the hands of a battering partner than from muggings, rapes, and automobile accidents combined (United Nations, 1995). Examples of continued cultural tolerance of male aggression abound, along with a persistent refusal to take women’s complaints seriously. For instance, when a group of high school athletes raped and sodomized a retarded girl in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, in the early 1990s, community members rushed to the young men’s defense, claiming that they were good boys, model citizens who were sowing wild oats and having some fun (Fine, Genovese, et al., 1996; Lefkowitz, 1997). In 1991, when Anita Hill accused the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, the Senate Judiciary Committee—all white men—expressed incredulity, concluding that she surely would have left her job and filed a complaint immediately if such events had really occurred. In cases where fraternity members have repeatedly gang raped unconscious and intoxicated women, university officials have looked the other way, and many students and parents have defended the boys’ behavior as crass, perhaps, but certainly not criminal (Sanday, 1990). When the sportscaster Marv Albert was accused recently of sexually assaulting his lover, public discussion focused more on his penchant for wearing lingerie than on the seriousness of the woman’s accusations. Indeed, we need only read the sports page of our newspaper to find sympathetic stories of athletes who have beaten their wives or raped their dates but are now facing this adversity (as though it was they who were victimized) with grace and courage. Such highly publicized cases are often sensationalized and treated as aberrations. Yet they barely scratch the surface of publicly condoned woman abuse. In the last three decades feminist researchers, theorists, and activists have generated a critical and politically provocative body of literature that debunks long-held myths about male aggression and challenges social acceptance of violence and harassment (see, for instance, Adisa, 1997; Bartky, 1990; Blackman, 1990; Browne, 1987; Dobash and Dobash, 1992; Fine, 1983; 1989; Fine, Genovese, et al., 1996; Gordon, 1988; Hollway, 1984; 1995; hooks, 1984; 1996; Jones, 1994; Jones and Schechter, 1992; Koss, 1985; 1993; Kurz, 1990; Riger, 1991; Russell, 1982; Sanday, 1990; 1996; Stein, 1995; Sunday and Tobach, 1985; Walker, 1979; 1989; Warshaw, 1988; Yllo and Bograd, 1988). This work has played a vital part in disrupting common assumptions that male sexuality is inherently aggressive, that women “ask for it,” that violence is a private “family matter,” and that what women call harassment is simply good-natured flirting. Many feminists have stressed that “normal” relationships do not involve violence, coercion , and degradation—that the lines between sexuality and abuse are sharp and clear and that it is men who misunderstand or choose to ignore Contextualizing the Study ❙ 13 them (Sanday, 1996). Combating traditional conceptions of women as masochistic, and thus bringing on their own abuse and exploitation, feminist researchers and activists have maintained that no woman asks to be victimized, that male domination is demeaning and threatening, and that women endure abuse because they lack the resources to escape or because they are unable to perceive other options (Blackman, 1990; Browne, 1987; Ewing, 1987; Jones, 1994; Kurz, 1990; Walker, 1979; 1989). By distinguishing “normal” hetero-relations from those that are abusive , feminists have offered powerful counterarguments to the womanblaming assumptions woven throughout mainstream discussions of violence against women. Yet for all their value, those very arguments present a troubling dilemma. On the one hand, we live in a society that bases advocacy and legal decisions on clear-cut (and...


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